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How to Motivate Under-Performing Employees

Posted by Jonathan Curran

motivate underperforming employees

Undoubtedly, the individual performances of key personnel can lead an organization into a long and very successful run. It all comes down to the company’s staff and how they execute their work to achieve important long-term goals. Distracted, disengaged, and under-performing employees can degrade the reputation of any organization. That’s where staff management comes in. It’s up to the managers to develop their employees so that they can become the company’s greatest asset.

An old Chinese Proverb states, “For every hundred men hacking away at the branches of a diseased tree, only one will stoop to inspect the roots.” This idea is very relevant. If the individual members of your team are not performing well, you have to get to the root of the situation and find out the cause of their performance issues before you can make it better.

Of course, as a manager, it’s your responsibility to keep encouraging the troops and moving the company forward. But what about those stragglers? An enthusiastic interviewee, after getting hired, may lose that enthusiasm over time, due to several reasons. The result can be decreased productivity, which can cut into your business profits and success. In these situations, it becomes the responsibility of the manager to find a cure for whatever is ailing them.

Here are a few expert suggestions to help managers motivate under-performing employees, to encourage better efforts and greater productivity.

  1. Address the Problem Head-On
    Joseph Weintraub, co-author of The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business, says, “Most performance problems aren’t dealt with directly. More often, instead of taking action, the manager will transfer the person somewhere else or let him stay put without doing anything.”Poor or under-performance is like an infection; it needs to be treated and healed in a timely fashion to prevent it from spreading. Do not wait to talk to the employee if he or she is not doing a good job. Ignoring the problem is poor management, and it allows the under performance of one individual to affect your entire team. And it’s better to work to motivate the employee rather than transferring him or her somewhere else. Here are some specific tips from the Houston Chronicle on how to address employee problems and work with them to correct the situation.
  2. Determine What Makes an Employee Work
    Think before you act! This adage fits well here, too. For managers, it’s important to understand what actually makes their employees tick. Know your employees – their goals and aspirations, and their future plans. Show them that they are important to you and your organization, so that they do not feel undervalued. Also, make sure that under-performing employees are being assigned the kind of roles and tasks that fit well with their skills and abilities.
  3. Watch One, Do One, Teach One
    This is a common but very effective training method. Take this easy approach to help your employees learn exactly how you want things to be done. This will give them every chance to succeed. Work with them in the field and watch them work. Ask them to watch how you deal with situations similar to the ones they need to manage. Give them time to understand your techniques and the logic behind them. By following these steps, you are much more likely to get the kind of performance you are looking for, and much more quickly.
  4. Monitor and Follow Up
    It’s very important to follow up with your employees regularly. Monitoring their progress can significantly boost their morale. If you ask someone to complete a task by a certain date, make sure to check whether he or she has completed it on time. Weintraub says this about following up: “It says, ‘I want this to work and I want you to feel comfortable; I’m not going to sneak around your back.'”
  5. Reward Changes
    If you expect good performance from your employees, they in turn expect your appreciation. A lack of recognition or appreciation leads to a lower morale and less interest in their work, resulting in under-performance. Weintraub says, “You want a team that can make mistakes and learn from them.” Remember no one is perfect! Reward your employees, even for small changes in their performance. Do not make them feel that the ax is ready to drop on their neck! The rewards can be as simple as verbal recognition and a pat on the back. This will make them feel that their work is being noticed and appreciated.
  6. Organize Motivational Events
    Many organizations today hold motivational seminars to motivate their employees. Businesses can hire inspirational speakers (like these for Promotivate Europe), who have great stories to share that can boost and motivate under-performing employees. You might be surprised to learn that companies often pay fees in excess of $50,000 for a 40-minute keynote presentation by a top motivational speaker. That’s $1,250 for every minute of talking and more than most people earn for a whole years work! You don’t need to aim that high – even just an address from the company’s CEO can go a long way to help employees internalize the company’s vision and ultimately make them self-motivated.
  7. Let the Employee Go
    Firing an employee is always the last option. Obviously, an under-performing employee can become a liability to a business. If, after implementing all of the measures above, you still do not see any changes in the person’s performance, you may need to let the employee go. You need to take action to avoid a domino effect on the company and to prevent the business from incurring losses through a spreading negativity and poor work quality.

The methods suggested here are not one-time strategies, but are ideal approaches to integrate into your company’s culture. Managers are responsible for boosting the performance level of their workers. It is really up to the managers to make their company environment a great place for its employees to work, and to motivate the personnel to work at their optimal levels.

Performance Management – Top 10 Best Practices

When it comes to performance reviews, even the most experienced managers can use some tips. Our ten best practices define the job description and career path for each member of your staff. Then, your review process becomes a part of your management strategy of holding each staff member accountable while motivating them to achieve more.

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About Jonathan Curran

Author

Jonathan Curran is an author and founder of Promotivate Speakers Agency. He has more than 10 years experience working in London’s professional services.

6 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Brooke Mason March, 19, 2015

    I agree with all the ways listed in the article but one – letting an underperforming employee go is hardly a motivation for this employee. However, this can spur other employees who are inclined towards underperformance. As for the best motivational method, I think that open communication can solve much worse problems than underperformance, so talk to your employees!

  • Jonathan March, 19, 2015

    Hi Brooke,

    Thanks for your comment! The last point is some kind of solution. If you have tried everything to motivate and accelerate the employee and still he/she is not performing well then there is no other option to let him go.

  • Drbssinghbhat March, 23, 2015

    Unmotivation is eliminated by proper continuous learning and development through workers’ participation while integrated planning and coordinated implementation is happening among all the workforce towards the subordination of small operational teams and functional departments to organisational management groups in building synergy and team spirit

  • Carter P. March, 23, 2015

    Before taking any action regarding an underperforming employee, every employer should try to find the root cause of this type of performance. Unfortunately, too many employers presume that poor cultural fit is to blame, and they don’t want to look beyond the surface. The reason for poor performance is often poor financial reward. Perhaps a carrot method would be the best motivation.

  • Annya J. March, 25, 2015

    Finding the cause of this behavior should always be the manager’s first step toward solving the problem. Maybe your employees need more training or maybe they are experiencing a tough time in their personal life. Anyway, knowing where the problem comes from will help you to solve it quickly and effectively.

  • Gately Consulting May, 06, 2015

    Hello Jonathan,

    * 80% of employees self-report that they are not engaged.
    * 80% of managers are ill suited to effectively manage people.
    * the two 80 percents are closely related.

    Employers keep hiring the wrong people to be their managers and then they wonder why they have so few successful, engaged employees. Successful employees have all three of the following success predictors while unsuccessful employees lack one or two and usually it is Job Talent that they lack.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent 



    Employers do a… 

    A. GREAT job of hiring competent employees, about 95%
    B. good job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture, about 70%
    C. POOR job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture and who have a talent for the job, about 20%

    Identifying the talent required for each job seems to be missing from talent and management discussions. If we ignore any of the three criteria, our workforce will be less successful with higher turnover than if we do not ignore any of the three criteria.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent

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Guest May, 06, 2015